DW Ready To Start Something, And End Something

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 5 2019
Darrell Waltrip has been a hit on NASCAR tracks and also in front of cameras. (File photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

BRISTOL, Tenn. – When Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway gets underway, NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip won’t be in his familiar TV broadcasting perch. 

Instead, the 84-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner will be atop the flagstand to handle the chore of waving the green flag to send 40 cars on their way to 500 laps around the track known as Thunder Valley.

It will be yet another opportunity for the three-time Cup champion and Hall of Fame driver to put his stamp on the sport he has been promoting with a steering wheel or microphone for nearly 50 years.

The 12-time race winner at Bristol was awarded the unique opportunity to start Sunday’s race by speedway president Jerry Caldwell during a press conference on Friday that confirmed Waltrip’s decision to walk away from the sport and his duties as a TV broadcaster following this summer’s Cup race in Sonoma, Calif.

“This is a bittersweet day, but Bristol is the right place to do this,” said Waltrip’s Fox broadcasting partner Mike Joy, who noted the legendary driver’s successful record on the high-banked oval, which included a stretch of seven consecutive victories.  

The Owensboro, Ky. native was flanked by his wife of 50 years, Stevie Rader Waltrip, NASCAR executive Mike Helton and most of the NASCAR on Fox team as the 72-year-old explained his decision to retire.

“Some people thought this was a spur of the moment decision,” Waltrip said. “But that’s far from the truth.

“I watched our kids grow up at race tracks. And now we have grandkids. I can’t let that happen again.

“I’m never going to run from this sport. I love it too much. But, I do need to let it rest.”

Helton, who grew up near Bristol, remembers when Waltrip was an up-and-coming driver on the short track bullrings throughout Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee during the late 1960s.

Helton later presided over the sport near the tail end of Waltrip’s NASCAR driving career.

“The impact Darrell Waltrip has had on our sport will be felt for generations to come,” Helton said. “And we all know he never shows up quietly. He shows up with a bang.

“He’s had a remarkable impact on a lot of people personally, but on the industry in general.”

Once the chatty Waltrip hung up his helmet for the final time in 2000, the timing was perfect for him to join the Fox team which launched their NASCAR coverage with the 2001 Daytona 500.

Waltrip’s first race as a broadcaster turned out to the final race for Dale Earnhardt, who lost his life during the final lap.

“I’ll never forget that entire week with my brother Michael winning the race and all,” Waltrip said. “But what I really remember was sitting down to interview Dale at the beginning of the week.

“Dale told me ‘Darrell, I’m happy. I’m happy and I’ve got it all.’” And we all know what happened.”

In the midst of the final chapter of 19 years as a color commentator, Waltrip reminisced on Friday about the races he called that standout in his memory.

“There have been so many good ones,” he said with his trademark smile. “And there have been a few that weren’t so good.

“But the race at Darlington (in 2003) that I got to call with Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch crashing coming to the finish line. That was quite a race.”

Waltrip said his trademark “boogity” catchphrase at the start of each race was derived from Ray Stevens’ popular 1970s song “The Streak”.

But he acknowledged that the saying has been both a blessing and curse throughout the years.

“Kyle Petty told me a few years ago that there are a lot of young fans who only know you as the ‘boogity, boogity, boogity’ guy and never knew you drove a race car,” Waltrip said.

Nearly in tears at times as he held court with the media and other dignitaries on Friday, Waltrip fought to hold his emotions in check.

“I don’t have to be sitting here today,” Waltrip said. “My bosses left it up to me. They said ‘you’ll know when the time is right.’

“I’m not done just yet. But when I walk out of the booth at Sonoma for the final time and look over at all of these wonderful people around me, that’s probably when it’s going to hurt.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 5 2019
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